Mid-Summer 2016 Anime Ranking

By the numbers:
30 – series I started or continued this summer season. Of those, at least…
3 – series already finished airing mid-season
3 – anime involving time travel/re-living the past
2 – cooking anime
3 – sports anime
2 – spoon-bending psychic lead characters
47 – idol singers/band guys (WALKURE: 5, Odd-I’s: 5, Procellarum: 6, Six Gravity: 6, Kitakore: 2, THRIVE: 3, MooNs: 5, VEPPer: 2, MIVV: 1, Fluna and Seleas: 12)
7 – idols cast in the role of Shinsengumi members for in-show stage plays
5 – idols cast as Shinsengumi member Okita Souji for in-show stage plays
4 – series airing Christmas episodes during the month of August (Cute High, Saiki K., CHEER BOYS, Scar-red Rider XechS)

91Days - 02
01. 91 Days (ep. 1-9) – In this dark prohibition-era mafia revenge story, there are really no good guys, just a matter of who you might be rooting for at the time. Our protagonist is just as evil as they come, and he’s more conniving than most. Characters in this show get brutally killed off all the time; it would not surprise me in the least if even Angelo does not survive past the end of the series.

After 9 episodes, story progression continues to be pretty much flawless. Also, I like how the angsty OP theme, “Signal” by TK from Ling Tosite Sigure, effectively evokes a sense of tragedy amidst all the violence and bloodshed.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

Saiki Kusuo 01
02. The Disastrous Life of Saiki K. (Saiki Kusuo no Psi-nan) (special ep. 1-50, or ep. 1-10) – Saiki is an ESPer who can move things with his thoughts and read other people’s minds. In turn, we’re privy to the rapid-fire snarky comments in his head and it’s devastatingly funny.

Considering that Saiki claims to not give a damn about anyone or anything except for not drawing attention to himself, he’s actually an unexpectedly good guy. While he’s not beyond judging people (he does it all the time), he does go out of his way to help friends and strangers alike with surprising regularity.

Apparently even telekinetics call their mama when there’s a bug in the house. Who knew?
(streaming at FUNimation and DAISUKI)

ReLIFE Kaizaki
03. ReLIFE (ep. 1-13 complete) – ReLIFE had the most unusual release schedule, with all 13 episodes made available immediately at the start of the season. We watched the first half of it almost right away, then put it aside reluctantly to check out the other new offerings of the summer, then returned later to finish the rest.

Underemployed 27-year-old Kaizaki is recruited to take part in a social experiment. He takes medication to age down his appearance and must redo a year of high school for unknown reasons. The characters are very well-written and their conversations mostly ring true. The way little bits of the mystery are revealed gradually as the students go through their experiences makes it hard to stop watching.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

Orange 01
04. orange (ep. 1-10) – The group of friends in this show is really convincing and likeable. Unlike KIZNAIVER from last season, for instance, it’s easy to understand why someone would want to be friends with these people.

This anime deals with mental illness and I appreciate the way it handles the topic. Depression sufferers don’t go around moping 100% of the time. It often is hard to tell that someone is thinking about hurting themselves until it is too late.

What’s really a shame is that the animation quality has been declining steadily week after week. Lately, the characters’ faces sometimes look so off-model that I have trouble telling who’s who.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

Macross Delta 22 - Freyja
05. MACROSS Δ (ep. 14-23) – This newest iteration of MACROSS is only my second foray into the musical-combat space opera franchise. My initiation was its immediate predecessor, MACROSS Frontier from 2008.

That there is also a love triangle in this MACROSS anime is not at all surprising. What is refreshing is that Mikumo, the lead singer of the musical unit WALKURE, has a different role to play and is not part of said triangle. Additionally, DELTA has none of the fanservice that Frontier had; that alone makes me respect this series so much more.

The most notable element of this production has got to be the music. The show generously trots out a new song every few episodes. These musical numbers don’t sound generic, either; they are consistently well-crafted and frequently sung by the voice actors specifically for the scene (as opposed to only using the recorded versions).

06. Cute High Earth Defense Club LOVE! LOVE! (Binan Koukou Chikyuu Bouei-bu LOVE! LOVE!) (ep. 1-10) – It’s the sequel, and our colour-coded Battle Lovers are back with frilly new upgrades to their combat outfits. Now that they’ve been around the block a few times, they have a good understanding of when they need to mobilize, and when it’s okay to just stay in the bath.

Unfortunately for our attention-seeking villains, the Beppu twins, the Defense Club has deemed them to be not a threat. The Beppu brothers are also known as the pop duo VEPPer, because obviously, in an anime environment so chockfull of idols, Cute High would surely have at least one or two.

I quite enjoyed the weaponized words in ep. 3. It reminded me, likely intentionally, of Aquarion LOGOS, which was based on the whole bloated premise of physical word attacks. Being used as the passing assault of the disgruntled-student of the week in this show was the proper treatment for that particular lame concept.

Also, the aforementioned Christmas episode was pure comedy gold.

Season one ended pretty conclusively. There didn’t need to be a second season. But these writers are confident and highly self-aware about their material. I have no doubt they know exactly what they’re doing and I’m happy to be along for the ride.
(streaming at Crunchyroll and FUNimation)

srx-01-yousuke
07. Scar-red Rider XechS (ep. 1-10) – I’m not into the generic sentai action, nor am I particularly interested in the alien attack storyline. Even the band stuff is sub-par; the guys seem to talk about music way more often than they actually make any. How SRX has won me over is with its oddball characters, which goes to show how important that single factor can be in determining whether or not I can find a mediocre series enjoyable.

The way Yousuke beats around the bush instead of saying things directly makes me laugh. And I especially empathize with his serious and self-conscious best friend and group leader Takt. Their conversations together are hilarious!

I even kind of like the romance subplot. Three of the guys (so far) seem to have a crush on the same (oblivious) girl, but they each have their own reasons for admiring or feeling protective of her. Because their personalities are well-written enough, it’s actually convincing.

Unfortunately, I’m not super-enthused about the recent dark turn of events. The show is better when it doesn’t bother with the serious plotline as far as I’m concerned.
(streaming at FUNimation and DAISUKI)

08. MOB PSYCHO 100 (ep. 1-9) – Of the psychic-themed comedies this season, this is the more serious take of the two. Mob is young and inexperienced, but he has strong principles regarding the use of his special powers, at least when he’s able to control them anyway. His part-time employer Reigen is a real personality. He’s a self-serving liar and professional con man, and yet, he improbably manages to be a decent mentor to Mob; and it’s all completely in-character.

If you’re into detailed action animation, MOB PSYCHO delivers on that front, offering creative camera work and fluid motion in its fight sequences. If I’m honest though, I’d have to complain that the character designs are all pretty ugly.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

09. Food Wars! The Second Plate (Shokugeki no Souma: Ni no Sara) (ep. 1-10) – As the Autumn Elections continue, Souma is challenged harder than ever and is even forced to acknowledge some of his shortcomings in the face of fierce competition. At the same time, we’re seeing more collaboration among the Totsuki students.

Shokugeki continues to be a fun watch, especially during mealtimes, but it does feel a bit repetitive in how it’s mainly just been one tournament after another.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

sweetness-and-lightning
10. sweetness & lightning (Amaama to Inazuma) (ep. 1-10) – Kouhei is a single father juggling the demands of his job as a school-teacher and the needs of his young daughter. It concerns him that Tsumugi rarely gets to eat a decent home-cooked meal, so he ends up joining forces with one of his students and the 3 of them learn to cook together. There is some mild development in other areas of their lives, but basically a new dish is served up every week.

This is certainly a sweet and pleasant show. Probably the only thing I really have trouble believing is Tsumugi’s curly, below-the-bum long hair. I can’t imagine any parent, let alone a single dad, having the time and patience to handle such an unruly mane. I think it could even be a safety hazard for a pre-schooler like her.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

11. The Morose Mononokean (Fukigen na Mononokean) (ep. 1-10) – Ashiya starts working for Abeno, the Mononokean, after the latter helps him to remove a fuzzy yokai that attached itself to him and was draining his energy. Other than an arc in which the pair enter the underworld themselves, the show consists of a series of sentimental stories of yokai needing to make peace with their worldly issues so that they can be exorcized.

The 2 main guys are pretty entertaining to watch, but the best characters are Fuzzy (Mojya), who is expressive with just his eyes, and the yokai wall scroll of ep. 4. That wall scroll deserves more screen time!
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

12. JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: DIAMOND IS UNBREAKABLE (ep. 14-23) – JoJo’s is just as good as it always is as far as story, characterization, and humour goes. The reason I’ve been liking it less this season has more to do with the content rather than the quality of the show. I can’t help it; things like severed body parts and spider dissections (I had to look away) are huge turn-offs for me.

If there was one episode I enjoyed immensely, that would be the standalone ep. 16, in which Josuke teamed up with Jotaro to hunt down a rat. Josuke’s thoughts and reactions throughout the ordeal were so funny!
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

arslan-senki-fuujin-ranbu
13. THE HEROIC LEGEND OF ARSLAN: Dust Storm Dance (Arslan Senki: Fuujin Ranbu) (ep. 1-8 complete, overall ep. 26-33) – The first series ended without resolving anything, so this is basically a continuation of the story. I liked that they revisited the slavery issue and the effect that Arslan’s position on the topic could have on his potential allies. I also enjoyed the political stuff toward the end. Otherwise, the animation was not great for the most part, and I’m not sure I agree with how the limited time this series had was spent. The pirate arc took up a pretty big chunk; and (spoiler) they still don’t make it back to Ecbatana, though the pieces are now in place for what could be an explosive season 3.
(streaming at FUNimation)

14. Re:ZERO –Starting Life in Another World- (Re:Zero Kara Hajimeru Isekai Seikatsu) (ep. 14-23) – I’m definitely not enjoying this second half of the series as much as I did the first half. The supporting cast are mostly new and we don’t seem to be getting any closer to solving the underlying mysteries from before. Maybe it’s me, but I don’t think I’m really getting the point of all the Witch’s Cult and White Whale stuff and how it relates to the big picture.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

15. CHEER BOYS!! (Cheer Danshi!!) (ep. 1-9) – The men’s cheerleading anime. This was pretty enjoyable for the first few episodes, when the core group of 7 guys were assembling and preparing for their first performance. Then the troupe suddenly ballooned in size to 16 members! Not only did I no longer know who was who, but I was also a bit bored that the main focus was on a personality clash between 2 of the newcomers.
(streaming at FUNimation)

b-project-01-thrive
16. B-PROJECT~Kodou*Ambitious~ (ep. 1-9) – Both B-PROJECT and TSUKIUTA. this season feature multiple boy bands, making it pretty challenging to keep everyone straight and remember which unit they each belong to. We’re talking about a total of 22 idol guys between these 2 programs alone! God help me.

Of the two, B-PROJECT seems to be the slightly better series in terms of characterization and providing insight into the Japanese idol/music industry, well, up to ep. 4 anyway…

They lost me a bit with the incurable illness stuff in ep. 7. Was it supposed to be sad or funny? Sad, I would assume, but I was laughing when I realized the same character who shares a voice actor with Okita Souji (from Hakuouki, whose name as a Shinsengumi member came up previously in this very show) also has a TB-like infectious disease.

They lost me a lot with boring ep. 5 and the spirit-possession stuff in ep. 6. Also, those trashy naked end cards seem out of sync with the not-nearly-so-sexually-suggestive content of the show proper.

Personally, I do enjoy the musical and cultural references in B-PRO. I have twice attended T.M.Revolution’s real-life INAZUMA ROCK FES that the RAIZIN Festival of ep. 4 was based on. Also, ep. 6 had a scene in a Jangara Kyushu Ramen restaurant, one of my favourite ramen joints in Tokyo. However, the way the material plays to an in-the-know audience could be potentially alienating to an average viewer.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

17. BATTERY the Animation (ep. 1-9) – A talented but abrasive young pitcher joins the baseball team at his new school after befriending the catcher. This anime is about baseball, however, the potential BL is frequently acknowledged in-show, as our pitcher-catcher duo is often teased with romantic/sexual innuendo by family, friends, and others.

It started out pretty good, actually. I thought Takumi’s attitude was believable and I was interested in what was going on with his little brother Seiha. However, it’s been very slow moving and it seems like we’ve gotten derailed with the current story involving the rival-team couple.

18. The Highschool Life of a Fudanshi (Fudanshi Koukou Seikatsu) (ep. 1-10) – A fudanshi is a male BL fan. This short series focuses on Sakaguchi’s experiences and his friends’ reactions to his unusual hobby. Generally, it’s pretty funny, but no kidding it really is short, at about 3 minutes runtime per episode only.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

19. planetarian (ep. 1-5 complete) – This five-episode adaptation of a Key visual novel is about a cute-girl android and the junk-collector who encounters her at her planetarium years after the apocalyptic destruction of the city (and maybe the world). It is intended to be a terminal illness-type moe tearjerker, as Yumemi is running on her final few hours of battery life. I thought it was all right.
(streaming at FUNimation and DAISUKI)

tsukiuta-01
20. TSUKIUTA. THE ANIMATION (ep. 1-10) – One of my least favourite parts of this show are the CGI dance sequences, which never seem to look good in any idol series I’ve seen using that technique. I can understand that doing them that way allows for a greater amount of detailed movement, but it’s just too weird here, especially when the characters are suddenly singing with doll-like faces.

Incredibly, both TSUKIUTA. and B-PROJECT each had an episode where some of the idols were training to star in a Shinsengumi stage play, portraying Okita Souji specifically. Is that a really common thing for boy bands or something? Anyway, TSUKIUTA. won that round; its version, which involved a tough veteran actor (and no supernatural elements) was definitely the better take.

TSUKIUTA., like B-PRO, is vastly different from episode to episode since its focus changes to a different character every week and there is limited linear plot development. So far, I’d say episodes 3 (Animate), 4 (stage play), and 6 (where TSUKIUTA. suddenly became a whodunit comedy) were worthwhile. All the rest were okay, I guess, but I don’t feel like I gained anything from watching them, and I still can’t keep the guys straight! (It turns out there are 12 idol girls in this show too, but don’t even get me started on that. I give up.)
(streaming at FUNimation and DAISUKI)

kuro
21. SERVAMP (ep. 1-8) – Way too many characters just keep showing up, some of whom have had memory-wipes and/or memory implants. Meanwhile the plot is very unclear. I almost dropped this after 3 episodes – actually, I really did drop it. But eventually, I came crawling back to give it another chance because of the voice cast and because Kuro is so damn cute. I had to completely start over in order to get a better grasp of what was supposed to be going on in this stupid vampire anime.

One thing SERVAMP definitely has going for it is its delightfully heavy OP “Deal with” by OLDCODEX, my choice for best theme song of the season. Additionally, in what other entertainment do you get to see pretty men conversing with and fighting each other while carrying cute dolls and kittens in their arms? Then again, maybe nobody needs to see that.
(streaming at FUNimation)

22. DAYS (ep. 1-10) – My brutally uncharitable take on soccer anime DAYS is that it’s nothing but self-insert wish-fulfillment sports fiction. I totally don’t buy all the opportunities Tsukamoto gets, or the admiration he inspires in teammates and opponents alike, when he is so clearly unskilled. That said, the show is not wholly unlikeable. Several of the supporting cast have amusing personalities, including team captain Mizuki, who has his own unique way of expressing himself that everyone finds hard to understand, and team tsundere Kimishita.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

23. OZMAFIA!! (ep. 1-10) – Not much happens in this series of 4-minute shorts about a new student at Oz Academy. There’s no point in watching weekly, so I marathoned a bunch of episodes at once. OZMAFIA!! functions primarily as companion content for the otome game it’s based on, as far as I can tell, not being a player of the game myself. To its credit, the character designs are really cute, but seriously, this show isn’t good. Don’t watch it.

The ending sequence alternately features several songs by Article One, a defunct Christian rock band from London, Ontario that I’d never heard of before. Once again, it amuses me to learn something about my home country through Japanese entertainment.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

Also watching:

thunderbolt-fantasy-05
Thunderbolt Fantasy (ep. 1-10) – the Taiwanese/Japanese co-production puppet show, which is technically not an anime at all.

It takes a bit of effort to get used to the puppets’ movements and expressionless faces, but the personalities and storytelling are quite involved. I guess we’ve come to expect no less from writer extraordinaire Urobuchi Gen. I’m still struggling with the Chinese names, though, since they bear no resemblance to their Japanese pronunciations.

Sawano Hiroyuki’s soundtrack expertly adds drama and gravity to the narrative, while the voice actors do a stellar job of breathing life into each of the characters as well.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

BROTHERHOOD FINAL FANTASY XV (ep. 3-4) – The latest installment was the one I had been anticipating the most. Finally the Ignis episode! Suffice it to say I was not disappointed. Ignis is totally like a mom to Prince Noctis. How can you not love him?
(streaming at Crunchyroll and YouTube)

Active Raid 2nd (ep. 1-6) – since it’s the sequel. However, you may recall we weren’t terribly impressed by the first season, so it’s no surprise we weren’t that keen on this either; and we’ve fallen behind. I must say, though, ep. 5 was pretty great. Sena’s impassioned takedown of a garbage-strewing idiot was the highlight. But let’s not overlook MIVV’s sugary, Satanic pop tune; that was pure fabulousness.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

PARASYTE (Kiseijuu) Part 2 – Completion

Parasyte-2

3 stars (out of 4)

Released 2015 (in Japan)

When I watched this part of the story in the anime series, I thought it was a little too stretched out and overly preachy about its environmental and humans-are-the-real-monsters themes. Therefore, I rather enjoyed the faster pace of this movie by comparison.

Tamiya Ryoko didn’t get as much development as in the anime. Regardless, her vision and wisdom came through concisely over the course of the film.

For all the action sequences that got cut, I was surprised that they decided to retain the love-making scene. I didn’t really feel that it was necessary to the story in the first place; and by having it take place at a waste management facility… that just was not very romantic, to say the least.

CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR

captain america civil war

3 stars (out of 4)

Released 2016

The Avengers are coming under fire from the public, and feeling their own regrets, over the collateral damage that happens during their missions. The UN proposes the Sokovia Accords to govern the deployment of the Avengers; but this divides their members, as some of them cannot stomach the political interference into their activities.

It’s a valid argument: what is the right amount of autonomy or oversight for an organization such as the Avengers? The film does a fine job of presenting both angles of the dispute, represented mainly by Captain America and Iron Man on opposite sides. Meanwhile, a number of other plots are unfolding which further threaten to tear the team apart.

The movie features great characterization, as usual, of each of the superheroes, especially Captain America and Iron Man. I really liked Black Widow too. Peter Parker makes an appearance in this film and he’s really funny, as Spider-Man ought to be. Is it too soon for another Spider-Man reboot? I don’t know. If what we get here is any indication, I think it could work!

RUROUNI KENSHIN: Kyoto Inferno / The Legend Ends

rurouni-kenshin-kyoto-inferno-the-legend-ends

Both: 3 stars (out of 4)

Both: Released 2014 (in Japan)

These represent the second and third films in the trilogy and cover the Kyoto Arc. The first film came out in 2012.

Compared to the source manga, the narrative is much compressed and rearranged, as with the first Kenshin film. It works okay as a movie, but once again, some transitions don’t completely make sense if you think about them.

Most of the individual fights between various characters have been cut; a necessity, as the intricacies and meanings would have been difficult to convey in this medium. I do regret we didn’t get to properly see the battle at Aoi-ya, in which 2 or 3 of Shishio’s Juppongatana were defeated by “women and children,” namely Kaoru, Misao, and Yahiko.

That brings me to my primary complaint, which is still the weak characterization of Kaoru. My image of her is of an open-minded young lady who is also bossy, strong-willed, and courageous. She lives by her progressive ideals of forgiveness and protecting life, but it’s not to say that she is a childishly naïve pacifist, either. From the manga (and anime), I could understand how she would be a source of strength and inspiration for Kenshin, but here she seems like just a nice girl with a pretty face.

Sadly, Yahiko, and Shishio’s woman, Yumi also lost a good chunk of their personality in the transition to film.

Soujirou was so good, though. Ryunosuke Kamiki really got his character’s scary-polite killer-child nature down. Soujirou represents an extreme version of what Kenshin used to be, and I’m glad his scenes were well-depicted in the films.

The many action and sword-fighting scenes throughout were absolutely gorgeous and thrilling; honestly, those alone are enough to make these movies worth seeing. There’s a whole lot to like in this adaptation of Rurouni Kenshin and I’m happy I got to experience these live-action films on the big screen at long last.

PARASYTE (Kiseijuu) (Part 1)

parasyte-part-one

3 stars (out of 4)

Released 2014 (in Japan)

This is the live-action retelling of the story of Parasites invading human bodies and turning them into cannibals. Shinichi’s quick thinking stops his Parasite from taking his brain when he is attacked, but now he is part-Parasite (in his right arm) and he and Migi are caught in the middle of the conflict between humans and Parasites.

I have not read the PARASYTE manga, so my reference for comparison will be the anime series which aired in 2014-2015. As far as I know, it was a fairly faithful adaptation of the original source material. Basically, this film was a streamlined, nicely compressed version of the tale. While it covered a lot of material in a short time, the important pieces, including the horror and humour, were left intact.

The arc involving Kana was skipped entirely, which was wise considering the time constraints, however, Kana fans may be disappointed at the exclusion. And there was not as much detail on the gradual evolution of Migi (or Shinichi), but I think the gist of their development came through; it’s hard to say for sure how effective it was, since obviously, this was not my first exposure to the story.

In contrast to the Rurouni Kenshin films, which screened on the same day as this, I do like what they did here with the female lead. Satomi of the anime was a pretty bland nice-girl. In the film, they eliminated 2 of the secondary female characters, with the result of Satomi ending up with a greater role and more personality.

The monstrous creatures looked great; the special effects in general were fantastic. Foley artist Goro Koyama was even on hand at the screening to give a demonstration of the techniques he used to create the sound effects in the film, which was a nice treat.

The Magnificent Nine

the magnificent nine

2.5 stars (out of 4)

Released 2016

In 1700s feudal Japan, several people devise a plan to save their suffering village from ruin by lending money to their lord in order to earn interest. Some of them get the money by selling off all of their belongings. There is no personal benefit for each of the participants, as all proceeds go to supporting the village.

It takes years for the funds to be collected and more years to convince their lord to accept the deal.

This is apparently based on a true story, and if the film is to be believed, what’s really remarkable is that even though some of the men were more miserly and self-interested than others, there was no dishonesty at all. Multiple times, just when it seemed that someone or other would be out for themselves, it was revealed that they actually had good intentions.

It certainly was a feel-good story and pretty inspiring that it could happen. It was a real miracle that so many altruistic people happened to come together and managed to accomplish something great.

Mid-Spring 2016 Anime Ranking

In a season where there are some shows trying really hard to be smart (JOKER GAME, and arguably KIZNAIVER) and at the same time other shows trying hard to be really dumb (Sakamoto desu ga?, and arguably The Lost Village), it’s a challenge to rank them in any kind of order. Here’s my attempt at it anyway.

Assassination classroom 2nd Season - 22
01. ASSASSINATION CLASSROOM (Ansatsu Kyoushitsu) (ep. 36-44, or SECOND/FINAL SEASON ep. 14-22) – Things are really getting serious as AssClass heads towards its conclusion. Koro-sensei’s past is revealed in detail at last. Predictably, the increased awareness of their target’s backstory does nothing to enhance the murderous intent of Class 3E.

I like the direction they’re taking with the story. While the students have been specifically tasked with eliminating the threat which is their teacher, in the big picture, the overall goal is actually to save the Earth. But they’re not the only ones who want Koro-sensei dead.

Whether he lives or dies, either way, I’m definitely going to miss Koro-sensei and his assassination classroom when this is all over.
(streaming at FUNimation)

Kabaneri - 06
02. KABANERI OF THE IRON FORTRESS (Koutetsujou no Kabaneri) (ep. 1-9) – A lot has been made of KABANERI’s similarities to Attack on Titan. It’s clear that KABANERI owes some inspiration to its predecessor, but it’s easy enough to appreciate this series as its own entity.

Many of the characters have distinct personalities and it’s been nice to see their development as the story has progressed. In particular, Ayame has shown herself to be brave and forward-thinking. I think she has really risen to the challenge of leading her people, despite the fact that the role was thrust upon her unexpectedly. And Ikoma has displayed emotions ranging from joyfully ecstatic, to bitterly crushed, to everything in between. He’s a testament to nerd heroism: his inventions are not only protecting the survivors aboard the Koutetsujou from the Kabane attacks, but the selling/sharing of his technology is also helping to feed the train’s occupants!

Mumei started out as overly strong but unsophisticated; gradually she’s gaining some maturity through her experiences with Ikoma. I’m not sure about Biba, though; so far, he’s been too blatantly evil. I’m curious to see if they will do anything more interesting with his character. I hope so.

KABANERI has its flaws, but for the most part, it’s well-written, it looks great (especially the action scenes), and yes, we are also here for the musical soundtrack by none other than Sawano Hiroyuki.

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03. Re:ZERO –Starting Life in Another World- (Re:Zero Kara Hajimeru Isekai Seikatsu) (ep. 1-10) – It’s an ongoing mystery why Subaru suddenly finds himself in an alternate fantasy world where his life is constantly in danger. The good thing is he has the ability to start over at a seeming “save point” whenever he dies. However, it is scary and painful to be killed, and it isn’t known how often he can restart before it’s game over for real. Re:ZERO is entertaining, well-written, and at times, genuinely suspenseful.

I’m impressed that Subaru is actually a decent, likeable guy, considering that he is the male lead in a fantasy show full of female supporting characters. I like Ram and Rem too; they’re cute and they seem to have a complicated bond as sisters.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

My hero academia - 01
04. MY HERO ACADEMIA (Boku no Hero Academia) (ep. 1-10) – It’s kind of like X-Men, except mutations (called “quirks”) occur commonly and are valued by society. Poor Midoriya (Deku) grew up idolizing superheroes all of his young life and is devastated when his quirk never appears. Nevertheless, he is determined to attend The Hero Academy. He does receive some unexpected help, but still it won’t be easy. Deku is so enthusiastic and hard-working. You just can’t help but root for him!

It’s weird to me that the bad guys actually call themselves “villains” in this show. Does it have a different meaning in their world? Or do they not believe in the justness of their own cause?
(streaming at FUNimation)

05. Tanaka-kun is Always Listless (Tanaka-kun wa Itsumo Kedaruge) (ep. 1-10) – The show’s bright and clean aesthetic is very appealing, and that’s a major selling point, even if I’m not at all a fan of the main character’s slack-off, do-nothing personality. Those types always annoy me. He is, however, the whole reason this series exists. And there are other things I do like, such as Tanaka’s long-suffering and enabling best friend, Ohta. Ohta comes off as really sympathetic and his lines are frequently smart and dryly funny.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

Joker Game 7
06. JOKER GAME (ep. 1-10) – D-Agency, a paramilitary spy organization, is created in Japan and its operatives are stationed around the world in this WWII-era drama. Most of the series has been more episodic than I expected. The early parts would feature one of the spies at a time in short stand-alone stories. They are difficult to tell apart from one another and we don’t get to know them much at all; which is completely intentional, since they are spies after all, and they’re not supposed to stand out. However, that has the side-effect of leaving me less invested in the show as a whole.

It’s only recently that there’s been a greater semblance of an overarching narrative, as Lieutenant Colonel Yuuki’s enemies are trying to figure him out. Ironically, because we are seeing things from an outside perspective now, that actually removes us even further from D-Agency. Lt. Colonel Yuuki and his spies remain as much of an enigma as ever.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

07. JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: DIAMOND IS UNBREAKABLE (ep. 1-11) – Something in Morioh City seems to be attracting stand users. It’s the 90s now, and our main protagonist this time is Josuke Higashikata, the illegitimate son of elderly Joseph Joestar.

There’s just no denying how entertaining JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure consistently manages to be. I may not love the character designs or the show’s technicolour aesthetics, but when all I need is some good dumb fun, JoJo’s always comes through.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

Shounen Maid - 08
08. Shounen Maid (ep. 1-9) – Chihiro goes to live with his young and carefree uncle after his mother passes away. He refuses to just accept Madoka’s charity, and plus Chihiro happens to have an unnatural love for housework, so they agree that he will do the household chores in exchange for room and board.

The tone is consistently light-hearted, funny and positive, but what’s unique is that there is an underlying sadness here that doesn’t get addressed directly. On the one hand, it’s really heartwarming that Madoka and Chihiro have found and connected with each other after the loss of their sister/mother, but there’s no way child-like Madoka could ever take the place of Chihiro’s mother, Chiyo. It’s also perplexing that Chiyo seemingly made no plans for her child’s welfare and never introduced her son to her family, even when her death was imminent.
(streaming at FUNimation)

Bungou-Stray-Dogs-02
09. BUNGOU STRAY DOGS (ep. 1-10) – I admit many of the references are lost on me, as the characters are based on real-life historical writers and I’m not very familiar with their works or backgrounds. As an uninitiated viewer, it seems a lot of focus has been on showing how wacky the cast is instead of presenting a real story.

It’s been getting a bit better recently, now that our main character Atsushi is finally taking the lead. Ep. 10 featured some good action and it convinced me that Dazai and Atsushi have a close mentor-apprentice relationship, even though I didn’t really get that from the show previously!
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

10. The Lost Village (Mayoiga) (ep. 1-10) – A busload of one-note characters arrives at mysterious Nanaki Village to start their lives anew. A vast number of them are pretty annoying and stupid and nobody would have minded if they became fodder for getting killed off one by one as they faced the monsters in the woods.

The Lost Village can’t be considered good by any stretch of the imagination, but you’ve got to give it credit for not pretending to be anything more than the shallow schlock that it is. In fact, the jury is out on whether this show is intentionally ridiculous or if it’s just plain bad writing. Personally, I’ve been taking it as absurdist comedy because it makes me laugh.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

11. Haven’t You Heard? I’m Sakamoto (Sakamoto desu ga?) (ep. 1-9) – This show is based on one single joke, and that’s that Sakamoto is absolutely, unbelievably perfect and cool in everything that he does. More often than not, it works and it’s funny! The best parts are when the bullies and tough guys find themselves becoming Sakamoto’s fans. I think those guys are more fun to watch than Sakamoto himself.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

Flying Witch - 04
12. Flying Witch (ep. 1-10) – This is a charming, slice-of-life series about a young witch-in-training who goes to the countryside to live with relatives. The characters are likeable, and more than a few of them are a bit quirky. Of particular note is Chinatsu, the little girl who is fascinated with witches now that she has gotten over her mild shock at the discovery that they exist. She is adorable and totally makes the show.

The reason Flying Witch is relatively low on my list? Well, nothing really happens in it. I hate to say it, but honestly, it’s a little too laid-back for my taste and I find it kind of boring. Also, I rather disliked the behaviour of our main characters during the café segment (eps. 7-8), in which they tricked their waitress and harassed the other customers (although they didn’t seem to mind too much). Fortunately, Makoto and company are not that boorish usually.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

13. RAINBOW DAYS (Nijiiro Days) (ep. 13-21) – I was worried about my tolerance for this show since it is airing this cour without the accompanying Club RAINBOW live-action segments. I’m relieved that the developments have been just slightly more interesting than in the first half and the new characters (in eps. 17 & 18) have proven to be a welcome addition.
(streaming at FUNimation)

Kiznaiver 04
14. KIZNAIVER (ep. 1-9) – Several high school kids are unwittingly enlisted to take part in an unethical human experiment in which they become linked to each other through feeling/sharing each other’s pain. It’s all for a lofty purpose, apparently.

From the special episodes which preceded the series, it seemed the people who were working on the project were pretty hyped about its concept and characters, which succeeded in piquing my interest. Unfortunately, after 9 episodes, I still find the whole thing to be underwhelming. The characters are not terribly sympathetic, the humour often misses its mark, and the romantic shipping seems forced and melodramatic.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

Also watching:

MACROSS DELTA – but I’m not caught up enough to include it in the rankings or have much of an opinion about it. Word is, the songs are quite good; of course, it’s girl-idol pop music, so I’m not a reliable judge of that aspect.

BROTHERHOOD FINAL FANTASY XV – only 2 short episodes have aired so far. They’ve been low on substance but undeniably fun anyway.
(streaming at Crunchyroll and YouTube)

Nagasaki – Memories of My Son

nagasaki memories of my son

3.5 stars (out of 4)

Released 2015 (in Japan)

On August 9, 1945, Nobuko’s son Koji perished when the atomic bomb fell on Nagasaki. On the third anniversary of the tragedy, Nobuko resigns herself to the fact that he is really gone and that she should move on with her life. She advises Koji’s girlfriend Machiko to do the same. That night, Koji starts appearing to his mother as a ghost. They talk and reminisce about the past. Meanwhile, we follow Nobuko’s interactions with the other people in her life, including Machiko.

Nagasaki – Memories of My Son is a very personal, simple story that perfectly captures and conveys the thoughts and emotions of its characters. It is profoundly sad, but the whole thing is not just a downer, either. There are moments of levity and hopefulness too.

In at least one instance, the characters marvel at how incredible America was, creating impressive things like Hollywood movies as well as nuclear weapons. Lines like that reflect the soft humour and intrinsic sadness of the film.

I really appreciated that this isn’t the kind of movie that beats you over the head with its melodrama. The pacing is such that the viewer doesn’t actually get a chance to dwell on any one idea or emotion for too long.

After all, 3 years had passed, and if anything, Nobuko was accepting of her lot in life; she held no particular resentment or bitterness about her loss. But the sadness that she kept inside her heart, the unspoken mourning over wasted hopes and dreams, that hit me straight in the gut.

This is a truly excellent, powerful film that perfectly accomplishes what it sets out to do. I’m glad I got to experience it. It really affected me. However, it was so brutally, emotionally draining that I don’t think I could ever watch it again.

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – ROGUE NATION

Mission Impossible rogue nation

3.5 stars (out of 4)

Released 2015

I missed my chance to see this film when it was in theatres. I finally managed to catch it during my recent flight home from Tokyo; and I enjoyed it a lot. It was funny right off the bat, followed by a stunning plot twist! The thrilling action and humour carried over during the rest of the movie as well.

Honestly, I can’t remember much about the previous installments of MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE and whether they were the same way, but I really liked how flawed and fallible Ethan Hunt was shown to be. Other characters were questioning the soundness of his motives and his methods. Although his successes were certainly due in part to his exceptional skill and determination, if it weren’t for his reliable comrades and plain good luck, none of it would have been possible; and that was made obvious.

Props to Air Canada’s in-flight entertainment system, which is vastly improved from just a few years ago. Navigation is easy and pages load quickly. I was watching in English and it was possible to turn the subtitles on. This is especially useful as sometimes it is hard to hear in a noisy environment like a plane cabin. That said, the dialogue and sounds seemed pretty clear through my earphones anyway, a credit to both the film and the system probably.